Legislation drawn up after the death of Avonte Oquendo is now law

Legislation drawn up after the death of Avonte Oquendo is now law
By Bill Parry

Children with autism who are prone to wandering and seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will be provided with voluntary tracking devices and expanded support services for their families after President Trump signed the $1.3 trillion federal spending omnibus bill Friday.

The massive bill included “Kevin & Avonte’s Law,” which U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) first introduced in response to the Avonte Oquendo tragedy in 2014 when the mute autistic boy walked past a school safety officer and through a door at the Riverview School in Long Island City in October 2013. Oquendo’s body was found on the shores of the East River in College Point more than three months later after an exhaustive search by his family and friends and thousands of volunteers from all over western Queens. A similar tragedy led to the 2008 death of 9-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills in Iowa, after the boy slipped into the Raccoon River and drowned.

“Making voluntary tracking devices available to vulnerable children with autism or adults with Alzheimer’s who are at risk of wandering will help put countless families at ease,” Schumer said. “After Avonte Oquendo ran away from school and went missing, I learned just how prevalent wandering is among children with autism and other developmental disorders. Since Avonte’s tragic death, I’ve pushed Congress to pass Kevin & Avonte’s Law, a bill that will create and fund a program to provide voluntary GPS tracking devices to children and adults with developmental disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Nearly half of all children with autism have wandered from their caregivers at some point, according to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A 2017 report by the National Autism Association revealed that between 2011 and 2016, nearly one third of missing person cases of those with autism resulted in death or required medical attention. According to AWAARE and the National Autism Association, of these children, 74 percent run or wander from their own home or from someone else’s home, 40 percent run or wander from stores and 29 percent run or wander from schools

Tracking devices can be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets, or clipped onto belt loops or into shoelaces. They can also be woven into specially designed clothing.

According to Schumer, these life-saving devices are currently available in about two-thirds of New York state’s counties. Schumer said that passage of Kevin & Avonte’s Law into law will be a vital first step in ensuring lifesaving technology is available to all New York localities and beyond.

“I am proud to have continued to speak up for those who cannot and to have authored this important bill, which will help Avonte Oquendo’s memory to live on, while helping to prevent other children and teens with autism from going missing.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.